Graham of Anywhere
Graham's blog: politics, poetry, and introspection

Final chance to save the Odeon Edinburgh Clerk St

Only one thing now stands in the way of Edinburgh losing the Odeon Clerk Street for good, and that is the government agency Historic Scotland. If they don't object to the plan to convert the cinema into a hotel, then the current owners of the building are free to begin the deconstruction because they already have planning permission granted by the City of Edinburgh Council. However, if Historic Scotland decide to block the plan, the chances are that a Public Enquiry will result -- and for us, that's a good thing. It would be a step back from the edge, granting us the chance to save the building.

A petition has already been handed to Historic Scotland to show the support of the community for the Odeon, but that petition continues to grow. If you have any feeling on the matter, please sign the online petition -- also linked from the Facebook page (see above).

I'm not the type of guy who normally criticises development; taking the old and reworking it into something new. It's often the only way to make use of redundant buildings and to bring them back to life. I'm also not the type of person who often jumps on bandwagons because they can be short-sighted and ill-advised. Lastly, I am not anti-capitalist; I agree that economic viability is important for any venture. I do have some degree of bias, but I'd argue that to say the Clerk Street cinema was redundant, or no-longer viable shows an incredible lack of vision. I'd also say that this isn't a meaningless cause, because we're talking about a community asset of both historical value and future potential.

Edinburgh does have some wonderful old, traditional cinemas such as the Filmhouse, Cameo and Dominion but nothing quite matches the beauty and magic of the old Odeon Clerk Street, which was opened as the New Victoria. For a city with an equally historic film festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), we should be doing everything in our power to save the only cinema auditorium truly befitting Gala screenings. I work for a large cinema chain, and our Edinburgh site is used heavily during the EIFF but what we offer is a multiplex environment. It's a good venue but it can't match the prestige of the festival and in my opinion, neither can the Filmhouse. The EIFF's natural home is Clerk St, and indeed the two venues would ideally operate in co-operation.

Cinema aside though, the Clerk Street venue would need to be much more multifunctional to survive economically. The building has abundant space which could be reworked to provide new facilities. The Cafe Bar area as it stands could be re-used for that purpose but by adding art studios and a gallery, or multimedia suites and break-out rooms, you could easily build a creative or corporate/education resource. Either use would attract the loyalty of the community with the University of Edinburgh based nearby.

Lets not forget that the EIFF has now been moved to earlier in the year to reduce competition with the Edinburgh Festivals in late summer, which opens up the possibility of using the building as a Fringe venue once again, on a more permanent basis. Moreover, we shouldn't forget the Odeon's musical heritage. The new venue would never again play host to the big bands of the day, but it could certainly provide the space and facilities for small gigs.

So, just to recap, I'm talking about a highly dynamic building that can cater to a wide range of demands. I'm envisioning a business model that's structured annually with key functions during different seasons, yet maintaining a core use as picture house with dedicated time slots. I'm seeing a well designed space that can handle cinema, festivals, lectures, conferences, gigs, comedy, dining, and exhibitions. I'm dreaming of a well used and well loved solution for an old gem of an establishment. I'm trying to show, to the powers at be, that this is not a lost cause, not unless you, through lack of vision and ambition, decide to allow our city to lose something really quite special.

Ignore the commercial and political pressure from the other camps. See the value in this old cinema.

Graham G. Hughes
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s*d*   I really hope that it'll survive, because as you've mentioned, it still has some economic potential in it, so it would be real awesome if they'd just rehabilitated it...